In Typing Practice, an excerpt from her book, Living with a Wild God, Barbara Ehrenreich looks back to keeping a notebook to make sense of growing up female in a dysfunctional family. The lessons she learned offer some hope for these trying times: “But there is another possible response to the unknown and potentially menacing, and that is thinking.”
Mindfullness apps: is there actually any benefit to this kind of bite-sized meditation. And what, exactly, are we trying to be mindful of?
At the time I wrote Nickel and Dimed, I wasn’t sure how many people it directly applied to—only that the official definition of poverty was way off the mark, since it defined an individual earning $7 an hour, as I did on average, as well out of poverty. But three months after the book was published, the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, D.C., issued a report entitled “Hardships in America: The Real Story of Working Families,” which found an astounding 29% of American families living in what could be more reasonably defined as poverty, meaning that they earned less than a barebones budget covering housing, child care, health care, food, transportation, and taxes—though not, it should be noted, any entertainment, meals out, cable TV, Internet service, vacations, or holiday gifts. Twenty-nine percent is a minority, but not a reassuringly small one, and other studies in the early 2000s came up with similar figures.
For a book about the all-too-human “passions of war,” my 1997 work Blood Rites ended on a strangely inhuman note: I suggested that, whatever distinctly human qualities war calls upon—honor, courage, solidarity, cruelty, and so forth—it might be useful to stop thinking of war in exclusively human terms. After all, certain species of ants wage war and computers can simulate “wars” that play themselves out on-screen without any human involvement. More generally, then, we should define war as a self-replicating pattern of activity that may or may not require human participation.
It’s too bad so many people are falling into poverty at a time when it’s almost illegal to be poor. You won’t be arrested for shopping in a Dollar Store, but if you are truly, deeply, in-the-streets poor, you’re well advised not to engage in any of the biological necessities of life — like sitting, sleeping, lying down or loitering.